Taj Express: The Bollywood Musical Revue is a treat for the eyes and an ocean-tide of extravagance for the senses. This is a musical with dance moves that make you feel as if you are burning calories just watching. Director Shruti Merchant and Bollywood Choreographer Vaibhavi Merchant’s work is phenomenal enough to make Taj Express a musical delight that has to be seen to be believed.
Taj Express, on tour and produced by Columbia Artists, asks the question: How many ways can the human body move? It is a show in which “audience participation is essential,” said voice-over artist Denzil Smith. It is a show in which Lighting Director Miguel Angel Fernandez Moreno’s scrim projection displayed everything from psychedelic patterns, the elephant god Ganesha, lavish royal interiors, lightning flicker to simulate slow motion, and a steady rain.
Writer Toby Gough’s story focuses on a young commercial jingle composer Shankar (the impressive Ninad Samaddar), who is charged with writing music for his first Bollywood movie, the titular Taj Express. The story-within-the-story is about the love between an actress named Karenna, who longs to be free from celebrity, and Arjun, a street hero with a secret. Throughout the show, Shankar is under deadline pressure to produce a winning soundtrack.
The certified rockstar of this show is Arjun Dhanraj aka Flash, the guitarist and session musician who encouraged audience interaction, complete with a Yoga lesson (try breathing through one nostril at a time, anyone?). Dhanraj committed stage theft with Bernie Sanders and Deepak Chopra jokes and a reference to the Washington Nationals’ World Series win. He performed primarily house right, and delivered his lines upstage to Samaddar’s Shankar, percussionist Prathamesh Kandalkar and flautist Avadhoot Phadke, who all sat behind the scrim. His electric guitar playing was pretty slick too.
Tanvi Patil was dazzling as Bollywood actress Karenna Kaboom and Rajitdev Easwardas impressed as Arjun. The scene “Meet the Hero – King of the Streets” showcased Easwardas’ moves. Patil was amazing in “Dance of Creation.” Patil and Easwardas were synchronized and mesmerizing in their dance moves and in their acting.
The majestic musical numbers were packed with romance, comedy, and pure wonder. The most impressive number was “Bollywood at the Oscars,” which featured A.R. Rahman’s double Oscar-winning hit, “Jai Ho” from the film Slum Dog Millionaire. Other notable numbers included “The Beethoven of Bollywood”; the West Side Story-ish “Gangland Mumbai – Enter the Villain”; the drum-infused “Rhythm of Journey”; “Bollywood Dream Sequence”; “Open the Gates”; and the Punjabi number “Love.Dance.Sing.”. These musical numbers were made spectacular by Music Director Abhijit Vaghani, and a nimble troupe of eighteen dancers.
Head of Wardrobe Mohammad Hanif Shaikh and Costume Designer Bipin Tanna provided the cast with a plethora of colorful, ethnic costumes that featured a multitude of colors, and lots of glitter. Lighting Technician Francisco Javier Jaudenes Corcin assisted Moreno with the superb lighting scheme. Sound Technician Kasheed Asheem Francois ensured flawless sound design. Choreographer Vaibhavi Merchant has helped create one of the most energetic displays of dance in recent memory. Musical lovers: Are you ready to board the Taj Express? The answer should be “yes.”
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, including one 20-minute intermission.
Taj Express: The Bollywood Musical Revue played for one night only November 9, 2019, at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts, 4373 Mason Pond Drive, Fairfax, VA. For information about other shows at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts, call 888-945-2468 or go online.